The 87 House Republican freshmen rode into Congress this year with high hopes for implementing a conservative agenda. They have been able to push the House GOP caucus to the right and achieve spending cuts of a magnitude unthinkable just a year ago.
But the rookies have been unable to break through the stalemate between the two parties that has virtually paralyzed lawmaking — and that failure has them discouraged, Politico
“Do I think I’m making a difference? No, not from a legislative standpoint,” South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy told the news service. “The idealism of being able to go to Washington and band together with like-minded people to alter [the] trajectory of the country, you can’t even alter the trajectory of the [Republican] Conference.
“I’ve tried to transition, whether it’s questioning [a] witness in oversight or trying to be fair on ‘Fast and Furious’ or not being a political acolyte — trying to be fair,” he said. “I think there’s room for that.”
The new strategy is the only way for him to have an impact at this point, Gowdy says. “You either recalibrate what you define as success, or you have a frank, candid conversation with yourself about how you want to spend the rest of your professional career.”
So does Gowdy envision spending the rest of his career in Congress? “I don’t think there’s any danger of me staying a long time, quite candidly,” he said.
For many freshmen, the House’s rejection of a balanced-budget amendment represents the seminal disappointment this year.
“Can I scream?” North Carolina Rep. Rick Berg, who devoted much of the year to seeking support for the amendment, said to Politico. “I’m extremely frustrated. You really don’t know where to start. As part of [the] debt-limit debate, I held out for [a] balanced-budget amendment, and the vote that we took on the BBA I was extremely disappointed by.”
Like Gowdy, other freshmen are seeking to maintain influence through oversight, as passing any major legislation before next year’s elections now looks impossible.
“It’s something our D.C. staff talks about a lot: ‘What can we do that’s not a press release but actually gets something done?’” Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford told Politico.
“Oversight is a big part of that. Being able to engage with amendments, behind-the-scenes conversations, being engaged in committees, asking questions about how it’s being written,” he said. “We work behind the scenes more than in public to find ways we can make a difference and affect legislation.”
Lankford said constituents demand nothing less than that.
“People at home want to know, have you made a difference, [have you] engaged in things. They say, ‘What have you done, you’ve been there almost a year?’ . . . You can’t be the rock star trying to get things done. You have to be the one doing the grunt work,” he said.
The freshmen’s difficulties have been compounded by pressures put upon them by outside interest groups, Lankford says. Some of the groups threaten to work against the re-election of congressmen who don’t vote in line with the groups’ views.
“I don’t mean to throw it at these special interest groups,” which have a right to voice their views to Congress, Lankford said. “But there’s an expectation that’s unrealistic with several outside conservative and progressive groups that they’re going to dig in and win, and it wins them fundraising points.”
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